The Myth of Novelty

hitMakersAnother key note speaker at the Corporate Researchers conference was Derek Thompson, author of Hit Makers: The Science of Popularity in an Age of Distraction.  I was particularly struck by his analysis around the myth of novelty which directly impacts some of our innovation work. He describes this as “people like sneakily familiar positive variations of things of a moderate deviation to the mainstream”.  There are obvious exceptions to this claim, but for the large companies we work with who have teams searching for “breakthrough innovation,” the truth is that the vast majority of shoppers aren’t looking for something radically different.

We are uncomfortable with that.  We need a jumping off point.  A parallel comparison.



In our work, we frequently encounter this myth in action. Shoppers want to compare the offering to something they know and put it in a familiar mental “box”, which can impede their abilities to fully grasp the true essence of what they are looking at.  Product placement can further disrupt understanding in categories with inherent norms and assumptions; where a product is placed can be an advocate for similar-to-norm products or a hurdle to overcome for products that depart from the standard and are seeking to combat ingrained expectations.

Thompson would argue marketers should focus their attention on products that would qualify as familiar surprises—just enough familiarity to make shoppers comfortable with just enough surprise to make the product feel unique and novel.  That will require the least amount of effort with the greatest amount of impact.  For real breakthrough innovation to occur the runway to adoption can be very long and the cost of generating awareness and changing behavior can be very expensive; for publicly traded companies in such a challenging business environment, many big brands simply don’t have the ability to be patient.

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How do you determine if a product is innovative enough to be seen as unique without being alienating due to its uniqueness?  I am glad you asked.  We have a methodology for vetting concepts in-context early in the development process to see which ones spark yet are understood.

You may find it familiar, yet surprising.

Happy New Year from REAL Insight!

The start of a new year is always exciting!

A fresh beginning. Full of anticipation. It helps to be coming off of a strong end to 2017 and kicking off the new year with a busy January.

We are kicking off a fun year with a fresh environment: a newly renovated office! Our space now has more spots for collaboration (and more spots to escape from collaboration).

Continuity and closeness have always been appreciated and prioritized by our team and open-office layout.  However, as many recent articles suggest, sometimes you need to get away and get some work done. As with most things in life, the ideal set-up is creating a balance of both: so we did!

In other news…

Our Reno911 and In-O-v8 teams have been hard at work! We’ll keep you up-to-date with these new developments in coming newsletters and blog posts. Because of their efforts, we will be:
  • going live with a new project management system to help us groove even more smoothly
  • growing our list of turn-key retailer options
  • vetting a new quick-turn around video solution
  • working on a few other things we will announce as our dreams become reality!
 I am grateful to the team, our client partners, and our supplier partners for a good 2017. As we move into 2018, I look forward to an even better year ahead and am excited to see where it takes us. Happy New Year!

 
-Luke

The Power of Moments

Recently, I had a great three days at the Corporate Researchers Conference in Chicago. It was a blast to nerd out with fellow researchers, and it was hugely validating to both our primary focus on in-context research and some of the key initiatives we have been working on for the last couple of years. Over the next few weeks, I will be sharing my thoughts, analysis, and implications on a few of the more meaningful presentations/themes from the conference.

PEAK PRODUCTION

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Dan Heath gave a memorable presentation highlighting some of the principles talked about in his book, The Power of Moments, which has broad-reaching implications ranging from improving customer service to innovation.  The foundational premise Dan focused on is that we don’t remember every aspect of every experience; the peak-end rule indicates that we, in fact, remember only the moments that were best and worst. As such, fixing most problems generally doesn’t make people happy; it just produces an unremarkable, unmemorable, unappreciated experiences.

Often the next step teams take is filling the potholes by dealing with the smaller issues. While it can be important to fix what is missing in a product or experience, the focus should instead be on creating some peak moments that are the unexpected, unique, and/or special aspects of a product or experience that will be remembered and lead to consumer/customer delight and retention.

IMPLICATIONS

  • Overall, there is a tremendous need for a qualitative understanding (surprise!) to tap into emotional reactions and to understand what about the experience or product stuck with them.  REAL Insight has developed a “Spark Scale” for testing new concepts that is focused on understanding which products have something remarkable (memorable) about them.  Not all aspects of a product or experience are equal in the eyes of customers, so it is critical to be able to weigh the emotional reaction to understand which aspects, if any, are the true drivers of interest and loyalty and which are just along for the ride.
  • These peak moments aren’t anticipated by the experiencer/consumer, but rather something that they discover within the actual environment and moment.  For this reason, context is huge and understanding actual behavior is huge.  Don’t ask about how someone would react to a scenario.  Create a test scenario and have someone actually react to see what peak moments are produced.
  • From an innovation standpoint, with so many decisions to make in terms of investment and key success drivers, peak moments can simplify the risk.  If there is a delighting feature that can act as a peak, smaller issues and inconveniences can be deprioritized. Identifying which of these features are worth investing in and which function as “filling the pot holes” decreases the risk of adding to product cost without actually adding any value.

By thinking about the innovation and customer experience as building memorable peak moments, there is a huge opportunity to invest smarter for optimal success and retention. Doing so will, in the words of Dan Heath, “defy forgettable flatness”.

 

Luke

In-Context Research Requires Environment AND Mindset

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As a company whose roots lie with in-store intercepts, we have always had an appreciation for the purity and predictability of learning about shopping behavior and testing concepts/packaging in a real retail environment with shoppers who were in the store to shop.  

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Reading Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman reinforced the idea that we need to preserve as much of the thought process purity as possible because the brain and the subconscious have a powerful ability to impact what we see and how we respond to things.

Thinking about in-store research in particular, there is a powerful difference between consumers who walk through the doors of a store to shop and those who walk in the doors to take part in a research project.  For the actual shoppers, they are thinking of what they shopping for, time constraints, budget, etc.  For pre-recruits, they are thinking about who they are going to meet for the research, what questions they are going to get asked, how they will “perform”, etc.  Each are primed for very different things. 

For research to be truly in-context, the environment needs to be real AND the mindset needs to be real.

The mission and mindset within each category can be critical to understand when learning about objectives like shelf breakthrough and concept understanding.  Someone that is in autopilot within a category is highly unlikely to break routine to consider something new or different no matter how impactful the packaging is.  Additionally, consumers use a number of subconscious short-cuts when shopping categories to simplify their shopping experience. So, what’s the implication?

There is NO way for results to be predictive IF respondents are approaching the research with the “game” mindset.

  • Be cautious when testing within retail “labs” because they consistently only check the “environment” box.   The primary issue here is respondents who are familiar with the objective and process and approach the shopping exercise as a game of “find out what is new or different.”  Recruitment plays a huge role in preventing this: make sure respondents haven’t done a similar type of activity within the last year at least.  Or just do the research in-store.
  • Rely as much as possible on intercepts and in-store recruits if conducting research in-store. 
  • Don’t overuse stores.  We recommend waiting several months before using the same store again to prevent running into the same shoppers again who already “know the drill”.

We have appreciated the traction in-context research has gained in recent years.  However, we have seen how the focus is almost always on the environment, not the mindset.  Make sure your next in-context research project accounts for  both.

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It’s Patio Season!

In Minnesota, there are 4 seasons: almost winter, winter, still winter, and patio season. As soon as the snow melts (May 5th this year), we clamber outside with alacrity to make the most of those few months where you don’t need to keep a snow shovel in your trunk.

Ingredients for an ideal patio happy hour:

  1. Delicious eats and a tantalizing drink list
  2. Not being subject to clouds of exhaust permeating the atmosphere or saturating the libations.
  3. Some like it hot. Others have skin fair as the Minnesota snow. Sun and shade dual options foster a comfortable environment for all.
  4. Big tables because hey, we like each other (and want to sit with each other).
  5. Good people enjoying the company of one another

As a team, we enjoy a fun patio happy hour as much as anyone. Situated in the NE neighborhoods of Minneapolis, the toughest question we face on this issue is which awesome spot should we visit this time? While you really can’t go wrong (especially if you incorporate our 5 ideal ingredients), here are a few REAL recommendations:

Bauhaus: Rain or shine, this covered gem is conveniently located across the parking lot from our office. Play some bags, drink some beer, eat from a food truck, and take in a scenic freight train or two.

Eli’s: Tucked back off Hennepin, Eli’s is a favorite lunch spot due to its varied menu and sunny tables. Always check the specials list.

Able: Can you be a seedhouse and a brewery and have an amazing patio all at the same time? Only if you are Able.

Stanley’s: One of the spots most capable of seating our growing team outside, Stanley’s offers a variety of eats and drinks that keeps everyone happy.

Masu: A popular spot on fielding Fridays when the office crew is smaller, Masu’s fresh Japanese fare is the perfect food to feast on when the forecast is fiery.

Fair State: Tucked behind the brewery, the Fair State patio is a hidden respite from Central Avenue that provides the sun and shade we’re always seeking. We dare you to try the Roselle and not become a sour convert.

Tattersall: Words cannot describe the cocktails available at Tattersall. They have a nice patio outside for the warmer weather, but we almost prefer the cocktail room inside with its cozy club chairs. It’s worth it to visit, rain or shine!

Spotlight On: The RENO Team

With the mission of renovating our current methodologies and internal practices to reach their fullest potential, our Renovation Team (affectionately termed the RENO911 team) is always on the lookout for additional tools that can complement our in-context focus.

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RENO Team (L-R): Emma Connolly, Quinten McGruder, Tyler McGruder, Adam Kneeland

One of these exciting new add-ons is eye tracking. Our moderators remain the best in the business with regard to eliciting honest and insightful feedback from respondents. However, for shopper insights in particular, subconscious thoughts and behaviors are harder to get at because shoppers rarely think about how they shop; consumers may say they have not seen certain signage, but their eyes may tell a different story. Now, with the eye tracking capabilities made possible through a partnership with Tobii, we are able to obtain a tangible read on exactly what respondents see and focus in on.

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While this technology is not new to the industry, the trade-offs presented by available devices have, thus far, not been a worthy additional to our methodology arsenal. Only now, with the right technology and right partner, has eye tracking shown to have the capability to be an appropriate add-on to our solutions. Paired with our in-store methodologies, eye tracking can be a great addition, especially to studies focusing on packaging and signage. This way of seeing through the eyes of the respondents gives definitive backing to insights and a measurable method of analysis. Like Project Director Quinten McGruder says, “It’s a natural extension of our existing methods.”

In addition to researching and developing our eye tracking offering, RENO911 has also looked into other new and innovative additions to the field, such as text analytics, and has been devoting time to building relationships with retailers across the country. REAL Insight was born when founder Jim Cahill walked into a Cub Foods and asked to conduct research there. “We’ve been building on Jim’s legacy of maintaining good store relationships,” says Emma Connolly, Associate Project Director. These ongoing connections are imperative to the in-context research in which we excel and, therefore, we prioritize their maintenance and growth. RENO911 keeps our skills, practices, and methods sharp and current. Where will they lead us next?

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Small Business

In a land where bigger is generally equated to better, we at REAL Insight dare to take an alternate perspective: Innovative is better. Flexible is better. Faster is better. Affordable is better. Personable is better. These qualities are all part of the value-added offerings our small business brings to the table.

With 12 full time employees and an extended team of about 20, we embrace our small business status, but also challenge the title—we are small in size, but not in capability or impact. We are undaunted by large projects or tight timelines. Customization isn’t a dirty word; we prefer it. We do not shy away from hard-to-find consumers or needed nuance. We enjoy keeping current on innovation, both human and technological, and have a repertoire of tools, ideas, and methodologies that stand up to any task. We are ready to pivot as projects develop and inevitable obstacles crop up. We also enjoy being able to fit the whole team at a restaurant table to celebrate birthdays, sunny days, or happy hour 🙂

This week we celebrate all those businesses that are fast and flexible, innovative and imaginative, creative and capable, and also have small employee numbers. Happy Small Business Week!